A discussion of the recently launched start-up accelerator, Start-Up Jamaica.
Last week Thursday, 3 July, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining in Jamaica officially launched Start-Up Jamaica, a business accelerator programme for tech companies. Modelled on the much lauded Start-Up Chile, Start-Up Jamaica will implement a 100-day programme for selected start-up companies, and in exchange for equity, the initiative will provide seed capital, training and mentorship valued at USD 30,000.00 (Source: PanAmericanWorld). The application process is now open, globally, to be part of the first cohort in this accelerator, and will close on 31 July 2014.
Mimicking the Chile experience
Launched in 2010, Start-Up Chile sought to make Chile “the innovation and entrepreneurship hub of Latin America by attracting … early stage, high-potential entrepreneurs to bootstrap their startups in Chile, using it as a platform to go global” (Source: Start-Up Chile). Since its pilot in 2010, which accommodated 22 start-ups from 14 countries (Source: Start-Up Chile), Start-Up Chilehas continued to grown considerably, to the point where it received over 1,000 applications for the 100 slots available in its 24-week programme (Source: Huffington Post).
Disjointed encouragement for tech innovation in the Caribbean
Across the Caribbean, there has been a growing emphasis, by both the private and public sectors, to encourage tech innovation. To that end, a number of meetings, conferences and competitions are being held regularly across the region. However, one of the concerns frequently expressed regarding the flurry of activity that is being observed, is that they seem ad hoc, and do not cohere into a framework to decisively realise specific longer-term outputs.
A good example of this disjointed encouragement is with respect to the numerous software development competitions that are being held across the Caribbean, even in primary schools. However, once the event has ended, there tends to be little or no follow through. The developers (or teams) are not given any support, particularly in the form of mentorship or financing, to help their ‘winning concepts’ become fully functional products, or to nurture the budding entrepreneurs.
Just the first step
It is in light of this norm that the Start-Up Jamaica initiative deserves special commendation for taking the next step to create a more structured framework and environment to foster tech innovation and entrepreneurship. Although it yet to take a cohort of applicants through its entire mentoring and support process, and cannot yet point to its impact and success, the government’s drive to realise this programme has been remarkable.
However, there is a concern that Jamaica’s business and government procedures and processes, which, in and of themselves, are widely considered to hinder the business environment, could also be a challenge to Start-Up Jamaica, and the national climate of innovation and entrepreneurship the initiative hopes to promote. In the World Bank 2014 Doing Business Report, Jamaica ‘s ranking slipped three places, from 91st to 94th, out of 189 countries. Areas that were still considered especially challenging included: enforcing contracts; paying taxes; getting electricity; trading across borders; and getting credit. (For the record, Chile was ranked 34th out of 189 countries).
Having said this, the Start-Up Jamaica programme will be only 100 days and will be conducted in a designated space in Kingston; hence the doing business challenges, in practice, might not be readily experienced by the programmes’s residents. Nevertheless, it is anticipated that most of those residents, especially the international applicants, will leave Jamaica on completion of the programme, which is also the experience in Chile, and is a phenomenon of accelerators (Source: Latin Post). It therefore suggests that Start-Up Jamaica should be considered an important, but only a first step, in creating an enabling environment for innovation and tech entrepreneurship in Jamaica.